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Ojo Caliente Grant

by J. J. Bowden

In 1790, eighteen residents of Bernalillo received permission from Governor Fernando de la Concha to settle upon the site of the abandoned Pueblo of Ojo Caliente provided they formed “a well ordered and regular settlement on the outskirts of the Canada de las Comanches.” It was to be heavily fortified, otherwise it could not hope to prevail against the forays of the hostile Indians. Three years later Luis Duran and fifty-two other colonists, who had united in the establishment of the new Town of Ojo Caliente, petitioned the governor for a grant covering the lands upon which they had settled. On September 11, 1793, Concha granted the request and directed the Alcalde of the Pueblo of Santa Cruz to survey and deliver possession of the premises to the fifty-three grantees. The alcalde was also ordered to return a full report of his proceedings to the governor in order that the expediente might be filed in the archives as perpetual evidence of the grantees’ title. In compliance with the governor’s decree, Alcalde Manuel Garcia de la Mora, with his assistants and witnesses, proceeded to Ojo Caliente on October 5, 1793, where he designated and surveyed the following as the boundaries of the grant:

On the north, the Canada de los Comanches; on the east, the foot of the hills; on the south, a monument constructed of stone and mortar with a holy cross made of cedar placed in the center, just below the tower of Jose Baca; and on the west, the foot of the other hills on the opposite side of the river.

 After the survey of exterior boundaries of the grant was completed, Garcia distributed individual farm tracts, each measuring 150 varas in width and fronting upon both sides of the Ojo Caliente River, among the fifty-three grantees. Next, he delivered royal possession of the grant and lots in accordance with the formalities required by law. An expediente was then forwarded to the governor, who on October 8, 1793, approved the alcalde’s actions and ordered the instrument filed among the Archives of New Mexico and directed that a copy or testimonio thereof be given to the grantees for their protection and security.[1]

The hearty colonists were able to successfully overcome the adversities presented by the harsh life on the remote frontier and form a permanent settlement. Major Zebulon M. Pike, after his arrest by the Spaniards near Taos, passed through Ojo Caliente, which he describes thus:

The difference of climate was astonishing; after we left the hills and deep snows, we found ourselves on plains where there was no snow and where vegetation was sprouting.

The village of Warm Springs or Aqua Caliente (in their language) is situated on the eastern branch of a creek of that name, at a distance, and presents to the eye a square enclosure of mud walls, the houses forming the wall. They are flat on top, or with extremely little ascent on one side, where there are spouts to carry off the water of the melting snow and rain when it falls, which we are informed, has been but once in two years previous to our entering the country.

Inside of the enclosure were the different streets of houses of the same fashion, all of one story; the doors were narrow, the windows small, and in one or two houses there were talc lights. This village had a mill near it, situated on the little creek, which made very good flour.

The population consists of civilized Indians, but much mixed blood ... This village may contain 500 souls. The greatest natural curiosity is the warm springs, which are two in number, about ten yards apart, and each affords sufficient water for a mill seat. They appear to be impregnated with copper, and were more than 330° above blood heat.[2]

Félis Galbis, one of the inhabitants of the grant for himself and in behalf of all other owners, petitioned[3] Surveyor General James K. Proudfit on February 28, 1873, seeking the confirmation of the premises as a community grant. A hearing was held on the petition on February 28, 1873, at which time the testimony of two witnesses for the claimants was presented. Dionisio Vargas testified that the grant extended about seven or eight miles from north to south and approximately twenty miles from east to west. Vargas further testified:

I do not know of any coal or mineral substance on the tract, unless the latter be found in the hot springs, which are said to have mineral quantities in the water they furnish, which is quite hot in temperature. The river bottom is cultivated annually; the balance of the land is pasture, with timber. The land is held by many peoples as a community grant.

The plat attached to the petition indicated that the grant contained 92,160 acres. Based upon the evidence before him, Proudfit issued an opinion[4] dated January 2, 1874, in which he held that the “record is full and fair, the continued possession undoubted, and I recommend the Congress do confirm the title to the legal representatives of the fifty-three original grantees named in the papers, and according to the boundaries set forth in the Act of Possession”. A preliminary survey of the grant was made by Deputy Surveyors Griffin & McMullen in September and October, 1877, which showed that it contained 38,490.20 acres. On July 20, 1878, Antonio Joseph, who claimed to have purchased the interest of most of the original grantees, protested the approval of the survey on the grounds that the west boundary of the survey was located about six miles too far east. He claimed that the surveyors had located the west boundary at the foothills just west of the river instead of along the summit of the Cuchilla Parda, which was a ridge running north and south about seven miles west of the Ojo Caliente River. The Cuchilla Parda forms the watershed or divide between the Ojo Caliente and Colorado River valleys. It also formed the east boundary of the Juan Jose Lovato Grant, which in at least one of its title documents called to adjoin the Ojo Caliente Grant.[5] No further action was taken by the Surveyor General or Congress concerning the grant.

Two suits were filed in the Court of Private Land Claims seeking the recognition of the grant. The first was filed[6] on February 14, 1893, by Jesus Maria Olgyin, who had inherited an interest in the grant from his grandfather, Juan Olgyin, one of the original settlers. The second suit was instituted[7] three days later by Antonio Joseph, for himself and on behalf of the heirs, legal representatives and successors of the other original grantees. The two cases were consolidated by order of the court[8] and tried under Cause No. 94. At the hearing, the government conceded that the title papers were genuine and that the use and occupancy of the premises had been continuous, open and notorious since the date of its issuance. However, it contended that the true east boundary of the grant should be located about eight miles west of the location established therefore by the Griffin and McMullen Survey. This would fix the east boundary at the foot of a low range of foothills situated just east of the river. After considering all the evidence, the court, on April 28, 1894, confirmed[9] the grant but found from a preponderance of the evidence that both its eastern and western boundaries were located at the foot of the first row of hills located on each side of the Ojo Caliente River. Neither party appealed from this decision and a resurvey of the grant was made in September, 1894, by Deputy Surveyor Sherrard Coleman. The survey depicted the grant as containing 2,244.98 acres. A patent for this amount of land was issued on November 2, 1894.[10]

[1] Archive No. 664 (Mss., Records of the A.N.M.).

[2] Pike, An Account of Expeditions to the Sources of the Mississippi, 206‑207 (1810).

[3] The Town of Ojo Caliente Grant, No. 77 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[4] H. R. Exec. Doc. No. 148, 43d Cong., 1st Sess., 4‑8 (1874).

[5] The Town of Ojo Caliente Grant, No. 77 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[6] Olgyin v. United States, No. 88 (Mss. , Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.)

[7] Joseph v. United States, No. 94 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[8] 2 Journal 69‑70 (Mss., Records of the C. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[9] 2 Journal 130‑135 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[10] The Town of Ojo Caliente Grant, No. 77 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).